Hello people. The winner of the week is Reed Hastings, who lost a million subscribers but saw Netflix’s stock skyrocket because he stopped losing. What a show man!
The clear view
I recently got an email from Google. “Dear Steven,” the caption went, “This is a reminder that any existing location history data you have in your Google account will be deleted on September 1, 2022.” That came as a surprise to me, as I thought long ago I disabled the voluntary feature that allowed Google to log my whereabouts, as if I had my own personal Mossad agent chasing me 24/7. I checked my account and found that while I had indeed informed my silent shadow to resign, I had not cleared my prior location history, which included my whereabouts between June 2013 and January 2019. Should the government subpoena me, everything would be fine. know.
I appreciated Google’s promise to proactively wipe this clean. Given the timing, I was wondering if the email came as a response to the Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson decision, deny the right to abortion. It hadn’t; I forgot that Google periodically sends out such messages in cases like mine where the location data just hangs out. But Google understands that the dobbs decision has made the handling of personal data more urgent. Not just Google, but all major tech companies — and many smaller app developers — can be routinely asked to hand over information that could lead to prosecution of abortion seekers and those who help them. Meanwhile, people are removing apps that track their menstrual cycles, fearing the data could be used against people suspected of having an abortion.
So it’s no surprise that within a week of the bizarre reading of the Constitution by the Supreme Court, Google passed a new policy: from now on, when people visit certain medical facilities – “advice centers, domestic violence shelters, abortion clinics, fertility centers, addiction clinics, clinics weight loss and cosmetic surgery clinics”: Google will immediately remove these stops from the user’s location history.
That’s a welcome step, but hardly a solution to the steady erosion of our privacy in the digital age. The big companies insist on being on the case. Google, like almost all major tech companies, has a mammoth privacy effort with well-meaning people trying to protect its users from dystopian misuse of its technology. Apple has made privacy protection a marketing focus by leveraging end-to-end encryption for critical data. (Also, Apple doesn’t have an equivalent of Google’s location history, even for those who might want it.)
But we are still a long way from having enough privacy. All in all, it’s nearly impossible to take full advantage of today’s amazing technology without leaving our personal information vulnerable – to governments, hackers or, all too often, advertisers. We have built a complete infrastructure based on sucking up data. So it’s no wonder that when state governments make a cosplay of The Handmaid’s Taleshould we worry about pregnant people being betrayed by their phones and their apps.